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Between Empathy and Representation : On the Discourse on a Common Binary in Dalit/Adivasi Hindi Literature


· Heinz Werner Wessler Uppsala University (Uppsala, Sweden)


07/26 | 16:10-16:30 UTC+2/CEST


In recent decades, Dalit and Adivasi literature – written by author coming from a low caste and tribal background – have emerged as important Hindi genres. Dalit and Adivasis form the economically most marginalized groups in India. Their short stories, poems and essays, as well as autobiographical texts, are regularly published in important Hindi literary journals. Recently, the perhaps most prominent Hindi literary journal “Hans” has brought out another Dalit literature special edition (November 2019). Some samples have begun to appear in the syllabi of educational institutions, indicating an ongoing process of mainstreaming a new voice in Hindi. The notorious social discrimination and economic marginalization of Adivasis and Dalits continues, but literature has become an important tool of expression. The position of empathy as a continuous feature of both societies and literature has been criticiced in contemporary literary theory. The critique has emphasised how important cultural reactions to “internal views” of others are in determining the acceptability or desirability of empathy. Furthermore, empathy, with its origins in the Victorian novel, is intrinsically linked to colonial power-relations. Dalit and to some extent even Adivasi authors mostly insist vehemently on the categorical difference between anubhūti (“experience”) and sahānubhūti (“empathy”) in the discourse on Dalit and Adivasi literature. In my paper, I will try to explore this binary and its meanings in contemporary literary discourse.